(Photo: Action Images)
By Adam Virgo
GROWING up, I played football for fun. There was no pressure. No expectation. No parents bawling from the touchline.
Too often these days, kids aren’t allowed to do that. A flash of talent at seven or eight and you’ve got agents sniffing around. Mums and dads pushing too hard.
All that’s going round someone’s head is ‘Premier League, money, Premier League, money’. And, instead of enjoying himself, suddenly that kid is worried about letting people down.
That’s why I’ve started the Adam Virgo Academy in Brighton. Like any academy, the aim is to produce professional footballers.
But the real emphasis will be on taking the pressure off. If you make it, great. If not, we’ll provide a whole package of social and educational stuff that sets you up for work, university or whatever else.
Nobody’s eggs will be in one basket and that, hopefully, should make everything more fun.
Why now? When I look at the academy system, I feel that too many youngsters are drawn towards the badge.
At 12 years old, they join a big club, then get carried away thinking they’ll be a professional footballer.
Four years later, they get thrown out, lose confidence and are lost to the game. It happens too much.
So, I’m taking a three-stage approach. In the early years, 5-16, it’ll be purely about learning and enjoyment.
Within that, I’m planning to set up my own agency. When we’ve got youngsters coming through the age groups and they’ve got a good chance of making it, we’ll bring them in.
What often happens is that an agent will spot a kid of 12 in a match somewhere, then go and speak to the parents. He might be a good guy, he might not. Either way, those parents have no real idea who he is.
But, because we will have seen a boy grow up over many years and built up a relationship with his parents along the way, they know we’ll look after him.
They’ll know from speaking to me that we don’t just want to create a footballer and take a commission. We want to prepare them for what will happen when they get there.
As a young player, I went from earning good money to brilliant money and I wasn’t aware of what to do. Nobody advised me. When I retired, I never got any help from my agent at all. He never even spoke to me. I want to provide that support.
At the same time, it’s about being realistic. We’ll push people as much as possible but, for most teenagers, there comes a time when someone has to say ‘You’re not going to make it’. One moment you’re dreaming of a career as a footballer, the next you’re back to square one.
So, from the ages of 16-19, students at our academy can be educated for two years on a B-Tech course, whether that’s coaching, physiotherapy or some other aspect of sport.
We’ll put them through coaching badges. At the end of that, they can either go to university or train as a personal trainer, gym instructor or even get on a scholarship in America.
Ultimately, it’s about saying to the parents ‘We’ll do everything in our power to make your child a footballer. But if he doesn’t make it, there’s a safety net’.
That way, when a kid comes through our doors, he won’t feel pressure or worry about letting anybody down. He’ll just enjoy playing like I did.